Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Top 5 Best and Worst Movie Musicals

I love theatre. When I'm not doing review or playing games, chances are you wouldn't be able to find me because I would most likely be in a rehearsal. I've been a fan of theatre since I was a little kid, and I've acted in countless shows throughout my life. I've dabbled in classic musical theatre, contemporary works, original plays, Shakespeare, and everything in between. So for my life, I've been very passionate when it comes to supporting the arts and encouraging people to go see plays. By that same nature, I also try to convince people to go see movie musicals, which are adaptations of pre-existing musicals for the screen, or original musicals debuting through a movie. There's just something magical about seeing a show on the big screen with high production values and transitioning a show from the stage to the screen. It's taking a story and transmuting it to a completely different medium, and in that transfer so much can be gained from it! Then there are also shows that are catastrophically awful and turn what could have been a solid adaptation into an embarrassment. 

So that's what we're here to talk about today. Today, I'm counting down the 5 best movie musicals and the 5 worst movie musicals, because with the good must also come the bad. In order to make it onto this list, a movie musical must have the following 
  • It must have at least 6 songs throughout the duration of the movie
  • The movie must be over an hour long to constitute it as a movie and not a short film. It has to be something I can sit down in a movie theatre to watch.
  • It has to be a musical, or a story that is told through singing and/or dancing. The plot must be conveyed through the music shown on screen. 
With all of that technical jargon out of the way, let's start our list off with the 5 worst movie musicals so we can end this on a happy note. Let's get critical!

WORST 5) The Producers
God, why does this even have to exist? No seriously, why did this musical have to exist? I'm a huge Mel Brooks fan and I love the original The Producers. If it wasn't for Blazing Saddles, this would have easily been my favorite Mel Brooks movie. It's the story of Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom trying to pull off the ultimate scam by producing the worst musical possible, Springtime for Hitler. If the show bombs on opening night, they get to keep all of the money that they made trying to fund the musical, but if it's a success they go to jail. It's such a brilliantly funny movie and the original 1968 version stands up to this day. It was made into a musical in 2001, and I'll be the first to admit that while I may not be in love with it, I still think that it's a good show. It has some decent songs ("Der Guten Tag Clop Hop" not withstanding), and does offer a bit more depth to characters like Leo and their secretary Ulla, and it was fine. The original was better, but it was fine. 

Then this movie came along and put a tarnish on the legacy of The Producers. As a movie, it's shot horribly. everything feel so constricted and tight that it's hard to enjoy the scenery, if any. It's all so claustrophobic the way it was shot. It's like watching a shoddy bootleg version of a Broadway musical that was filmed on a cell phone camera in the front row, that's how tight it is. There's no breathing room to it and it's hard to get a feel for the dancing and the set pieces. I did enjoy the cast that was assembled to make this movie, featuring musical legend Nathan Lane and Mathew Broderick, who is talented in his own right. I'm just disappointed that they're used for an above average musical to make something not so hot. The show had its problems, and this movie made them all glaringly obvious and added even more problems to the mix. Whoopie. 

WORST 4) Rock of Ages
Does anyone need me to tell them that this movie sucks? Like, seriously... it's bad. Rock of Ages, which has been running on Broadway for 5 years, has always been bad, but in a cheesy self aware fashion. The musical knows that it's paying homage to classic 80's rock bands and at just how stupid and over the top it was to like rock n' roll back then. Hell, that was the decade where hair metal was popular and "The Final Countdown" was one of the best songs of the decade. The show encapsulated just how stupid the 80's were, but in a lovable and heartfelt way. This turd of a movie however, loses all of the self aware passion behind the movie and exchanges it for lame, underpowered covers of classic rock songs taken SUPER SERIOUSLY. Gone was the joy and the fun of it all, and instead it was replaced with drab and uninspired "character pieces". There aren't even characters to begin with in this movie, and you know it's bad when Mr. Serious himself, Tom Cruise, is one of your best actors in it. I love me some Tom Cruise, but not like this...

What makes this even worse is that like most jukebox musicals, which are musicals where songs are pulled straight from a greatest hits collection to tell a story, this show doesn't have a story. It never has. The only time a jukebox musical has had a good story to it was Jersey Boys, and that's because the bulk of the show is biographical and lends insight to what The Four Seasons went through as singers. In Rock of Ages, it's just a greatest hits collection with no story, which I'm okay with as long as the songs are good. Unfortunately, none of the songs in this movie work. Just listen to this poor version of "Rock You Like A Hurricane", one of the chessiest and most badass songs of the 80's. Now here's how you do "Rock You Like A Hurricane". That's what Rock of Ages tries to live up to, and it fails so spectacularly at it. I would say that this movie has the worst soundtrack on the list, but we still have some more entries to cover. 

WORST 3) Annie
This musical is almost legendarily bad. Most people look back on Annie as being a very, very, very, very, very flawed musical, and it's a show that I don't like at all. This musical has survived throughout the years solely on the existence of two of its songs, "Tomorrow" and "It's A Hard Knocked Life". That's the only reason Annie still exists to this day. Why this movie is going to be remade this year is baffling to me, given how unpopular this movie is amongst musical theatre fans. It's so bad, that not even adding Jane Lynch to the revival last year could save it from bad reviews. It's awful, awful, awful. The movie is bad just on the basis that it's an adaptation of Annie. The movie stays true to the plot of the musical and even adds in a few scenes not shown in the musical and gives a few more characters like Punjab some more screen time. But still, it sucks. In fact, it's so bad that just on name alone it deserves a place on this list. 

I almost feel bad for the cast of the movie because they couldn't do a thing about the script or the story. Annie is one of the few shows that is so flawed, the it's rare that any productions could salvage any good merit from this show. If someone is doing Annie, it's not because they have a passion for the show or the movie, it's because there's nothing else besides Annie. The show sucks, and by extent the movie sucks. 

WORST 2) Grease 2
Now THIS is a legendarily bad movie. Grease is one of the most beloved musicals of the 70's and ranks up there as being a legitimate classic musical. Grease 2 was left in the dust and has quickly and quietly been forgotten by the theatre community. It's just Grease gender swapped. This time it's a bad girl trying to get a nice boy. It's reusing the plot of the original, but only with worse songs. Speaking of the songs, wow... I mean wow these songs are bad. I am not even joking when I say that there is not a single good song in this movie, they're not bad. Adding on to that, all of the songs follow one general theme; let's sing all about sex! I kid you not, there are three songs in this movie dedicated to sex metaphors and innuendos. Just take a listen to "Reproduction", a song that uses plant metaphors to describe sex. Delicious, isn't it? 

It's actually kind of surprising that people have forgotten about this movie in all honesty. Even amongst my musical theatre friends, this is a show that is never mentioned just because no one knows that it even exists, and we're talking about a community that prides itself on it's extensive knowledge of the medium. Everything from Oklahoma to A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder is known, but this? No one knows what this movie is and no one wants to know for that matter. On every conceivable level, this movie is not good. The plot is a rehash of the original, the songs are all awful, and the production is lackluster at best. But to get my number 1 spot, you have to go the extra mile. You need to be so bad that it questions your beliefs on what you like. Not many people will agree with me, but it's the truth. My number 1 worst movie musical is...

WORST 1) Les Miserables
When I first heard about this movie, I didn't really know what to think about it. It looked like it would be a good movie, and it had a really damned good cast behind it too. However, after it came out, I heard split reviews from people that I fully trust about musicals. People that I knew and respected loved this movie and just as many people hated this movie. So I gave it a watch, and I've decided that this is a theoretical movie. Everything about this movie works in theory. It has the perfect cast... in theory. It has the perfect director... in theory. It has great locations to film in... in theory. Everything was in place to work, but none of the pieces fit together. Instead of being a puzzle that fits together perfectly, this is a movie where the pieces were forced to fit together with the force of a hammer. 

Do I need to go down the laundry list of why this movie is bad? Russell Crowe is a horrible Javier. Amanda Seyfried has a shrill voice for Cosette. Marius sounds like Kermit the Frog. The camera work and choreography are shoddy. The barracade is underwhelming to the point where it's almost pathetic to look at it. Javier's death is laughable. It's all just so wrong on every level. Yes, even Hugh Jackman isn't that good in this movie, though he does try his heart out, but poor direction can cripple any good actor. And yes, Anne Hathaway did a phenomenal rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream", but a song cannot save a musical as large as this. A review that I've seen said this about the movie "Les Miserables does what no movie should ever do; it makes you question whether or not the source material was that good to begin with". If you have time, please check out the Nostalgia Critic's review of Les Miserables, which pretty much goes into detail on all of the problems in this movie on a musical, theatrical, and technical aspect. It has countless flaws, it spawned countless memes, it divides fan bases, and it sits atop my list as the worst movie musical I've ever seen. 



And now, we move onto my favorite movie musicals. Let's get going!


BEST 5) Reefer Madness
Oh boy is there a lot of history to get the joke of this movie. Bottom line, Reefer Madness was a made for TV musical satire of the original Reefer Madness, which was a 1930's PSA about the evil's of marijuana. It become insanely popular in the 80's and 90's for some reason, and its popularity eventually led to the creation of this musical, released in 2005 for TV, but premiering in 1999 on the stage. First things first, I love the fact that this is a complete satire of the squeaky clean image of middle America in the 1930's and to a lesser extent, the 1950's. Ask yourself how many musicals actually delve into that time period for a premise, and then ask yourself how many musicals are actually satires. Very few, and its so refreshing to hear songs that are biting in how satirical they can be about MacCarthyism, drug use, and old film tropes. It's a show unlike any other to be sure. 

And then there are the songs. Oh boy, these songs are a trip. For me to really like a show, one of the things I look for is the variety of genres a show can dip into. Yes it is nice to hear a musical with a set mood and tone for every song, but that's not a reason to limit the genres a musical can go into. By going into a different genre every couple of songs, it keeps each song sounding fresh and helps to distinguish them for each other. In Reefer Madness, there are rock songs, super peppy and happy songs, songs you'd hear straight from the 1930's a bit of tango, and even a bit of Christian gospel in there too. Jesus sings to our heroes, a song is a fully animated number about the joys of pot brownies, and marijuana zombies convince a drug addict to become a cannibal. It's blatant insane propaganda from a bygone era, and it's all played for laughs. You can't help but crack a smile at it, especially when the singing clams come on. Just watch this and be thankful it exists.

BEST 4) Beauty and the Beast
Of course Disney was going to appear on this list in some way, shape, or form. Disney practically manufactures movie musicals on a yearly basis, so it was very difficult to choose only one to put on this list to represent the best Disney musical. At the end of the day, while musicals like Hunchback and The Lion King are great in their own rights, Beauty and the Beast is the marker that all other Disney movies are measured by in my opinion. It does everything that a musical should do. It tells a story through music, and almost all of the songs are classics in their own rights. 

What really does put this movie above all of the others though is perfectly summized in the classic song, "Beauty and the Beast". On every conceivable aspect, this song is one of the best songs ever put to film. The animation is phenomenal and it's also a landmark for Disney as well. "Beauty and the Beast" served as Disney first full song that was shot with 3D modeling, giving it a much more majestic and grand impact. The song encapsulates the relationship between Belle and The Beast (does he have a name?) and shows just how far they've come in their time together. Yes "Something There" did also show how their love was established and strengthened, but it's "Beauty and the Beast" that showed the validity of their love. This movie is so good that it was the first animated movie to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, it's that good. But you know what, you already know just how good this musical, and this movie, really are. It's a great musical, a great movie, and just a great story. 

BEST 3) Repo! The Genetic Opera
OH. HELL. YES. I don't care who you are, but I dare you to find me a musical that is not only this good, but is also this metal! If one genre is heavily under represented in the world of musical theatre, it has to be metal. Metal is hardly ever used in any shows, and I can kind of see why. Just by having the presence of a single metal song in a show would be hard to fit in and could potential jar with the established tone. Metal is very heavy and strong, and almost always has a sense of power to it that is very difficult to convey properly. I love me some good metal, and Repo! The Genetic Opera is probably one of a handful show shows that dabble in metal. Everything about this movie is very dark and gruesome, taking place in a world where organ harvesting is a daily fact of life, and most of the characters are either murderers, sadists, monsters, drug addicts, or drug dealers. And I love every second of it. 

As the title says, this is and opera, which means that there is no spoken dialogue throughout the movie. Every last word is said through song and lyrics, and it says just how good the songs are when they can be enjoyed as a part of the show as a large, and as individual songs. "Zydrate Anatomy", "Chase The Morning", "21st Century Cure", "At The Opera Tonight", "We Started This Opera S*#!", "Night Surgeon", the list of awesome songs goes on and on. And unlike most musicals, backstory is told through animated comic book panels, violence and gore are shown on screen, and we can see just how evil and horrible people can be, yet somehow learn to sympathize with them. At the same time, we can sympathize with the few pure characters in the show, Shilo and Blind Mag, and want to support them through their trials and tribulations, though it doesn't end well for either of them. In short, Repo! is a cult phenomenon. Few people have heard of this show, though the theatre community has elevated this show to a whole new level for just how unique and different it is from most of modern musical theatre. Such is the power of metal.

BEST 2) Chicago
Best Picture of 2002. One of the most popular modern musicals of all time. So dynamic, so good. That is the power of Chicago

As a musical, Chicago was, and still is, a great show about the world of burlesque and all of its little facets. It's a show that'd so good that it's been running on Broadway for over a decade now, and it's still consistantly good. But this movie. If someone asks you what musical theatre is capable of and just what theatre can do as a performance art form, show them this movie. I think what makes this movie stand out from any other movie on this list is that most of its numbers are performed on a stage. What do I mean by that? Well, while characters may talk and interact with each other as in any film, once a song starts, the song is performed on a burlesque stage with full lights and effects. You can make your own observations about just what that's meant to imply, but I tend to view it as a way to naturally fit in a song into an over arching narrative without having any suspension of disbelief. In most musicals, we're just meant to accept that people would stop what they're doing and break out into a song and dance with multiple people joining in, despite that this would never happen in real life. In Chicago, there is no suspension of disbelief required. By outright saying that these are performances and are taken outside of reality, then it serves as an artistic way of not only staying true to the nature of the musical, but by giving a justifiable reason as to why people are singing and dancing. 

And can we just say that "Cell Block Tango" is one of the best songs in musical theatre history? This song is filled with pure, unadultered power and is a joy to sit through every time. I can watch this song on repeat for an entire week and never get bored of it, that's how good it is. It has one of my favorite songs ever, it's stylistic, it's a phenomenal show, and it does everything right in terms of how to make a movie musical. But why isn't it number one? Well...

BEST 1) Pink Floyd's The Wall
The Wall is one of the best movies ever made, movie musicals be damned. It's not a musical in the traditional sense, featuring no dancing and is not done in the style of a musical, but it is a story told entirely through music. This movie is an adaptation of Pink Floyd's album The Wall, which was created for the sole purpose of creating this movie. During the production of the album, Pink Floyd's own Roger Waters made it perfectly clear that the album would be turned into a rock opera the likes of which has never been seen before or since. It's pretty much the entire album done as a movie, which would be questionable if you're a casual Pink Floyd fan, until you realize that The Wall is one of the most popular albums of all time and one of the most critically acclaimed albums as well. So turning one of the best albums of all time into a full rock opera was either a stroke of genius, or creative insanity. Either way, the product is incredible and defies all explanation. 

Fun fact: Back when I was in high school, I used to go to competitions for acting, and before I left for each competition, I watched this movie. It's a movie that shows elements that aren't shown or even talked about in most musicals. It discusses the idea of loneliness, isolation, depression, and the effects of mental trauma. This movie is much darker than Repo! ever was just on the basis that everything discussed about in this movie is something that the viewer can relate to and empathize with. Combine that with beautiful animated sequences, brilliant cinematography, and very little dialogue, and you get something that everyone can enjoy in some way. 

But it wouldn't be on this list if it wasn't for the quality of the songs. These songs are just beautiful. Every song in this movie is memorable and leaves a lasting impact, but above all else, they're all good songs. Some songs you'll remember for the visuals, and some songs you'll remember for the lyrics. Just take a look at one of the best songs from the movie "Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2", a song that is so meticulously shot that it's almost art in and of itself. Then you have "When The Tigers Broke Free", an original song added to the movie, and that's about all of the songs I can say without outright listing the entire soundtrack. 

Is it a traditional movie musical? Of course not, but that still doesn't mean it's not something that every musical theatre fan should watch just on the basis of how a story can truly be told through music and imagery. Something as magical as Pink Floyd's The Wall deserves to be the number 1 best movie musical I've ever seen. 



I hope you enjoyed the list, and maybe I'll do more of these theatre lists in the future!

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